New snake-like robot can fix pipelines on the ocean floor

The oil and gas industry has complex and expensive infrastructures in the deep-sea. So, in order to ensure that the operation happens safely and properly, companies spend millions on devices to inspect these platforms.

To make the job easier, cutting-edge underwater drones and robots are being developed that could make the work safer, cheaper, and less polluting. Among these new technologies is the Eelume, a six-meter-long, snake-like robot equipped with sensors and a camera for underwater navigation.

Eelume is basically a self-propelled robotic arm whose slender and flexible body can transit over long distances and carry out IMR in confined spaces not accessible by conventional underwater vehicles. Engineered to live permanently under water, the underwater robot can be mobilized 24/7 regardless of weather conditions.

New snake-like robot can fix pipelines on the ocean floor.
Eelume snake robot. Credit: Eelume Subsea Intervention

The snake-like robot can be kept at a docking station at depths of up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) for six months without surfacing. The Eelume can travel up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) without having to return to the station to recharge, and this significantly reduces costs.

Eelume robot can work autonomously on tasks assigned from a control room and send videos and data back. A set of different tools allows the robot to perform several tasks, including tools to operate subsea valves and cleaning brushes to remove marine growth and sediments.

The flexible and slender body can access and operate in restricted areas of subsea structures. A dual-arm configuration is achieved by mounting tooling in each end and forming the vehicle body into a U-shape. One end of the arm can grab hold to fixate the vehicle, while the other end can carry out inspection and intervention tasks. One end of the arm can also provide a perspective camera view of a tool operation carried out at the other end.

New snake-like robot can fix pipelines on the ocean floor.
New snake-like robot can fix pipelines on the ocean floor. Credit: Eelume Subsea Intervention

Although maintenance work is already done, at many deep-water wells and pipeline systems, by unmanned vehicles, they still need to be transported to the site on a manned vessel. In addition, they need to be remotely operated from onboard the surface vessel. This process can cost up to $100,000 a day.

One of the earliest investors in the robot is the Norwegian oil company Equinor. The company believes that the robotic device will reduce costs by using a cheaper method to do maintenance and repair. With this technology, humans will be able to control a robot from land instead of directly working in dangerous conditions offshore.

Next year, the startup expects to install its first robots and, by 2027, intends to have 50 copies of the robot distributed around the world.

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